This is a mortar and pestle. These tools were used in the local drugstores for compound drugs and herbs. My grandmother, who grew up in the tenements with her parents, brothers, and grandmother, specifically remembers walking to the drugstores as a child to receive little envelopes of crushed Advil. In my family specifically, my great-grandmother used this sort of old-fashioned pulverizer in order to grind raisins, nutmeg, various nuts, and cinnamon into a soft powder in order to make charosset for Passover. My grandma specifically remembers helping her mother prepare for holiday meals in the kitchen. As my great-grandmother would teach my grandmother how to cook, my grandmother used to sit at the table grinding up all kinds of ingredients, including garlic cloves and cinnamon. These tools were specifically helpful because, with the lack of electricity in the tenements, all work needed to be done by hand. The specific mortar and pestle that my grandmother still owns is made of brass, so that there were no pores to hold in any flavor and they were easily washable.
– Steven Cohen